Dropping the Dawnblade: Axe Dorinthea and the Road to Nationals

by Christian Gilbert 9th August 2021 5 : 34

In late May, Kieran first drew attention to the idea of placing Hatchets in Dorinthea's hands. What felt like an offbeat concept suddenly sprang to the forefront in the opening week of Road to Nationals, when Christian Gilbert piloted Axe Dori to the top spot. Now, Christian makes his debut at the Rathe Times to explain the why and the how of this unlikely contender.

Since the release of Monarch, Dorinthea players have been debating: are the Hatchets of Body and Mind viable alternatives to Dawnblade? After all, the Dawnblade has been synonymous with Dorinthea for as long as the game has existed, and they've been an effective pair just as long.

In my opinion, the Dawnblade deck is a setup deck: play Potions and get to the mid-game, then seize the momentum with Dawnblade counters, snowballing your way to victory. To find the problem with the gameplan, you need look no further than the two heroes responsible for the shape of the modern meta: Chane & Prism.

Despite Dorinthea's late-game strength, Chane has a better endgame. And Prism demands that you play 6+ attacks that don't synergize with your Dawnblade strategy- not to mention Arc Light Sentinel can outright stonewall all the momentum you built.

If I wanted to play Dorinthea, it was clear that I needed a new build- one that didn’t require setting up for Dawnblade counters. The original build I made had a simple goal:

  1. Attack with Dawnblade (with go again),
  2. roll into a Second Swing or Hit and Run, and
  3. follow up with Command and Conquer, Snatch, or a second Dawnblade attack.

The idea was to make that second attack devastating, with unexpected damage output and relevant hit triggers.

This build had a better early game, but was way too inconsistent. Because I was so focused on my second attack for the turn, I was depending on drawing into the cards I needed, undermining the consistency Dorinthea is known for. I would find myself holding hands with no attack action cards, which meant I was relying on my opening Dawnblade to hit if I wished to attack again that turn. If Dawnblade was blocked, there wasn’t anything else I could do with my turn. It was just arsenal and pass.

Instead of adding more attack actions, I decided to change to the Hatchets. This allowed me to utilize cards like Second Swing and Hit and Run without needing an attack action in hand.

The first thing I noted when switching to the Hatchets is that they had no hit triggers equivalent to the Dawnblade's counters. Dorithea’s ability also wasn’t going to be useful most turns. Because of this, attack reaction cards were not as meaningful. Dancing around your opponent’s defenses was too difficult for too little payoff. With attack reactions scaled back, cards that required you to hit were worse. Warrior’s Valor and Steelblade Supremacy, while great cards, didn’t do enough if you couldn’t guarantee the hit.

With this in mind, my deck continued to move further from the established Dorinthea 'core'. And as I did so, I gradually found my way to a build that could consistently take out some of the best decks…

...except, it still couldn’t race Chane.

Mind Games

If Dorinthea couldn’t race Chane, then she'd have to fatigue him. But if fatigue was the goal, why choose Dorinthea over the established fatigue heroes like Bravo and Dash?

Because when I revealed Dorinthea, Chane wouldn’t know I was trying to fatigue them. They would preboard based on the assumption that I was playing an aggressive list. And even after the game had started, most Chane players still wouldn't know that they were playing against a fatigue deck.

The goal is to play a midrange game for the first 4-6 turns of the game. Dorinthea wants to take very little damage in these early turns, but also present threats. The deck allows you to do this because you only need two cards in hand to present pressure: Command and Conquer, Enlightened Strike, Pursuit of Knowledge, or Hit and Run, alongside a blue or yellow card for pitch, is 5-6 damage over two attacks that also removes a counter from Valiant Dynamo.

The goal of these attacks is to weaken Chane’s turns and, insodoing, to better your defenses. This strategy puts Chane in an awkward situation, as they need to go all out in early game while also trying to set up their late game.

Strategy Tip: You can’t afford to take damage at any point in the game. You may have a great hand, like Spoils of War into red Hit and Run into Snatch, but if you have to take 5+ damage to pull it off, it’s not worth it.

While playing out the early game, you’re also looking for Snag. This is critical. If you get Snag in the first two turns, you can afford to pitch it; but after turn two you will need to arsenal it and hold it as a defense against Chane's big Rift Bind turn.

Around the four Shackle mark, your strategy switches up. You’re playing a control deck now: no more attacks for you. Just block with everything and hold a Snag or a defense reaction in arsenal. Take Chane to the endgame.

What makes this strategy work is how good Steelblade Shunts are at defending. With a Shunt in hand and 3 counters on Fyendal's Spring Tunic, you can block up to 15 damage from hand- and that's not including arsenal.

Once you get to Chane’s big Rift Bind turn, play Snag and block it out. If you can survive those turns, the rest of the game is easy. Just block until they are left with no cards, then finish them off with Hatchets.

The Decklist

Key Cards

I'm going to take a moment to reiterate and expound upon a few cards I mentioned already.

Valiant Dynamo is insane in this deck. You can remove a counter almost every turn, but the true power is that it turns a 3-defense cards into a 4-defense, which is great against cards like (red) Snatch. And in the ninja matchup, you can shut down Mask of Momentum almost every turn.

Steelblade Shunt is an important fatigue tool exclusive to Warrior. With a Tunic counter, you can block out a big turn while losing very little pressure. Additionally, in the Chane matchup, you can pitch Blue to reduce 2 Arcane damage, saving a resource for the Shunt and preventing up to 8 damage from 2 sources with only two cards.

Hit and Run is clearly the best aggressive card in the deck. Being able to constantly get go again is huge, especially if your opponent lets you take a full hand into your attack phase. With two Hit and Runs and a blue pitch in hand, your axe attack sequence is 2-6-3.

Spill Blood and a full hand can present some massive damage that can close out games. For peak performance, use a Timesnap Potion, play Spill Blood, attack, Hit and Run and Second Swing into a second attack, then use that Timesnap action point to roll back to your first axe for a third attack. This is a hypothetical 4-12-5, all with Dominate.

I'm not going to give sideboard guidance for all your matchups, but because we're targeting him, here's what you should sideboard against Chane:

  1. -3 Timesnap Potion
  2. -1 Dauntless (Y)
  3. -3 Dauntless (R)
  4. -2 Second Swing (R)
  5. -2 Ironsong Response (R)

Your equipment is Nullrune Hood, Fyendal's Spring Tunic, Braveforge Bracers, and Valiant Dynamo.

This deck’s greatest strength is how consistent it is while remaining versatile. If your opponent takes a turn off, you can present a massive turn with no setup. Even on their good turns, you can block with a couple cards and Warrior’s great equipment while still having a respectable turn.

Christian Gilbert

Christian Gilbert is a Flesh and blood judge in Colorado who has been playing since a little after Arcane Rising was released. He loves to dive into the complexities that card games provide, whether that be interesting rule interactions or trying to play into metagames. Christian usually plays competitively, while still operating under the belief that the meta is never fully “solved”.